FIRST STEP TO FIRST COLLECTION
I have been meaning to get down to my blog for quite sometime now (or maybe months – guilty!) and I have finally taken the Sunday off to strictly sit down with a cup of coffee or two, my notebook and my sweet old MacBook. I feel that I have so much to talk about, that I have to start now rather than putting it off. I have wanted to do this every week but things takes over and I end up with ‘I’ll do it over the weekend’ and the weekends pass by with knitting hours. But no more!
Today, I would like to start by telling you how I started my business. The reason being, I have been approached a lot by people wanting to start a business wanting advice on where to start. So if you are one of the many people who are at the first step of thought, I hope sharing my experience would give you an idea. I am no expert; I am still learning every step of the way. Everyone makes different decisions, find different solutions and work to the methods they see fit. It is a little bit of a story so I will do it in 2 parts.
Graduation year 2013 | Placement year at Leutton Postle - Photo with Sam Leutton
I started the business (lots of pre planning i.e. research) following my graduation in 2013. I am where I am today i.e. in England doing my business, because of all of the decisions I made dating back to before my A levels, which was in 2007 if I am correct. Yes, I am quite the planner! Saying that, you do not need to be in the same place (sorry, if I scared you off there). I get a little restless without a plan.
It all started when I was doing my BA in Knitwear at Nottingham Trent University. While I was on my third placement at Leutton Postle, I was really inspired to start my own business. Leutton Postle was a young brand when I worked for them. They were the coolest, nicest and really fun people to work for. Their little studio, fun knitting jobs, and design environment drove me to making the decision. I still remember sending a rather lengthy email to my family letting them know of this and gaining advice and thoughts on the topic. Going into final year at university, I based my project on designing a commercial collection and identifying my handwriting. Saying this, if I could go back to that year, I would have designed a very different collection! I will be doing a post with advice for students going on placement year and final year (I will save that for now).
Due to my visa, I had two options if I wanted to pursue a career in Knitwear in the UK – to work for another company which would require sponsorship (as per my knowledge, a lot of them do not offer this) or to start my business. At the time, I thought that the opportunity was right there and so I took it.
THE B WORD
I first started off with a Business Plan – the scary stuff. It sounds really difficult but it just comes down to research and planning. I started looking into different parts of it which helped me understand what products I wanted to sell, who my competitors were, what my price points would be and what boutiques I would like to sell to. It really is a length plan but these were the few points I started out with. I was then doing a short business course with The Hive at Nottingham Trent University. This helped me plan my business and gain an understanding of the money side of it – cashflows, costings, simple accounting etc. I have done accounts in my ALevels so it was not new news to me. Once you get a hold of it, it is quite simple to understand. While I was working on my business plan, I started thinking of business/brand name and the logo. I found this very difficult. I wanted my name as the brand name (as a lot of high end brands do that same) but to decide on a logo – phew! I tried using PeoplePerHour first but it was not what I wanted at all. I was trying to save on the pennies here! If you are wanting to be a really big business and be in department stores, or boutiques, put some time and effort and invest in your logo. This is going to be everywhere – on your website, social media, product, magazines and so on. You do not have to spend hundreds of pounds but spend a little. I would recommend finding companies that would design a logo for you. Try and hunt some down on Behance or pinterest. They both have portfolios of people and that is where I found mine (I would be happy to give you the contact – comment below)
These were some of the logos the person designed for me. After getting some opinions from friends and family, I decided to go with the one I have. I have not looked back since. Worth it!
MY FIRST PRODUCT – The printed silk scarf.
This was carried forward from my final year as I received a lot of love and great feedback on them. My expertise did not ever lie in print and still doesn’t. I have taught myself this and love doing it. So my aim was to apply to Bottica, which is no longer present. They had mentioned that designers needed packaging. This seemed a little worrying to me, as I did not know where to start. So, I researched. I looked at accessory brands and also clothing brands to see how their packaging was. I hunted down companies that offered this at an affordable price and quantity. After a lot of enquiries and price lists, I went ahead with a company called TwinklePeeps.
I realised after a few months that my brand was about knitwear and not accessories and it was a mistake to take on two product categories to start with. I would recommend starting with 1 product that you are confident with and then expand into others. My scarves are now doing really well and I now realise that it comes down to a bit of time, patience and well, marketing. It will take to be established and build a customer base, so be patient. I loved the quality of the packaging I received and have received great feedback too.
I then started with my first collection, which was AW2014. I thought I knew what I was doing but I was a little confused. This to me seems normal now. I committed to buying a lot of materials. My aim was to be using natural fibres only but I have changed things since. All of this costed me. Reflecting back, I would advise on buying small and watching out on the cost. Moving forward, I made my first collection, which I was quite excited about. Moved on to a photoshoot with students who wanted experience working with a brand. I was happy at the time with how things turned out but you will see how things have changed since.
MY FIRST ATTEMPT
I approached Wolf & Badger (you should all have heard of them). They have 2 stores – one in Mayfair and one in Notting Hill (London based). I applied through the website and received a response for a meeting. I was over the moon! So I took with me a linesheet and a lookbook (when I look back at how this was done, I would literally shoot myself). I met with the director and while the collection was good in photos, it did not fit right. I was told what was wrong and how to improve it. I was told not to give up and not to be afraid of making it amazing. The manager there was a knitty person and he is literally amazing! He gave me a lot of advise and while it was disheartening at the time, it was the best advise I received and it was what took me forward.
MY SECOND ATTEMPT
Because the season had passed (I missed my deadline for buyers), I went onto doing collection number 2, SS15. First, I wanted to a little studio that would be my place of work. So, I moved into a little delightful unit at The Oldknows Factory in Nottingham with the help of my boyfriend and his friend. Heavy machines, lots of organizing and a few days of painting and we were finally there!
Whilst on my second collection, I decided to exhibit at Handmade in Britain in November 2014. It was a great experience. I spoke with customers, received responses on my scarves and ofcourse sold a few products. If I went back to it, I would do it very differently. You need to plan how to best show you products! Mine was a little bit all over the place, but I have taken it on board now.
I then started offering placements to students at NTU and received two great students who helped me with the first collection – Latasha and Amy. I find that working around people is the best. You get advice, suggestions and see things from a different point of view. It was great to ask them of their input and help with everything – design, colours, photoshoot etc. It went great from there! I got the opportunity to sell with Avenue32, Young British Designers and be in store with Wolf & Badger. I was over the moon!
Some backstage photos from the SS15 photoshoot :
It took a bit of time and trial to see what worked. I think the most important part was being criticized by someone in the industry – remember that constructive criticism only makes you better. The first year was a big learning curve and I am still learning on the journey. I will be sharing the changes I have come to make and the reasons why. I am moving in a different direction now but like I said, always learning until something fits just right. Sometimes you may think something works best for you but it may change into something different as time passes by. Changes are scary but things work out for the best.
I would love to hear your thoughts or if you have any questions, comment below or drop me an email.
Until next time